An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Allchin Talks Longhorn
In an eWeek interview this week, Microsoft group vice president Jim Allchin discusses some Longhorn details, including a few tidbits that weren't previously public knowledge. Allchin says that Longhorn will include simultaneous desktop and server versions, though that plan could change (as it did with Windows XP and Win.NET Server) if the server release requires more development time. The Longhorn database-based file system is being developed, naturally, by the Windows team, based on code created for Yukon, the next SQL Server version. What Microsoft is discovering is that integrating Yukon with Windows is extremely difficult, and if I'm reading this right, I think I may have seen the first waffling on whether Yukon technology will make it in time for Longhorn. Allchin notes that the company is working on making Longhorn hot-patchable, so that OS updates like service packs and hot-fixes can be applied on-the-fly with no rebooting. The company is also working on a P2P-type system so that Longhorn machines within Wi-Fi range can instantly share and synchronize documents.
Paul Talks Longhorn
One particular Longhorn item I've debated discussing is its 3D video-based user interface. Allchin briefly mentions Microsoft's "new 3D stuff" in the eWeek interview mentioned above, and I had downplayed its capabilities previously, comparing the Longhorn user interface to Quartz Extreme in Apple Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar." It turns out, however, that the 3D UI in Longhorn is much more complicated and capable than anything in Jaguar. Instead, Microsoft is working on a full motion video display layer, likely based in part on Direct 3D, that will use technology from and be similar to that offered by a company called Anark. Anark describes its technology as "stunning interactive content with seamless integration of 3D models, \[full motion\] video, images, and audio," and that's what we're going to get in Longhorn. My understanding, and admittedly this is pretty vague right now, is that they UI will be layered, similar to the Media Center interface in XP Media Center Edition, with layers for 2D, 3D, and video. The Anark stuff demos pretty well on the Web, but the desktop-based stuff, which I don't see on their Web site, is naturally more impressive. I think people are going to be shocked by the quality of the Longhorn UI if what I've seen is any indication.
Office 11 Beta Acceptance Letters Go Out
A few weeks back, I mentioned that Microsoft had issued the first round of invitations to beta test Office 11, the next Microsoft Office version. This week, the acceptance letters followed. "We are writing to let you know that you have been accepted into the Office 11 Individual Evaluation Program for the upcoming Office 11 beta this Fall," an email to accepted testers reads. "You will be hearing more about the beta soon, but we wanted to keep you informed about your status in the program. We’re very excited about this next version of Office and think you will be also. Thank you for your interest in providing feedback on our products, and taking time to be involved in this way." Office 11 will ship in mid-2003.
Yankee Group Advises Immediate Windows XP Upgrade... Hmmm
This one is kind of suspicious in a Mindcraft-like way, but the Yankee Group has issued an advisory warning that corporations which procrastinate on migrations to Windows XP and Windows .NET Server 2003 do so at their own peril. On the other hand, the rationale for this advice may be sound: The problem, the Yankee Group says, is that the majority--almost 65 percent--of surveyed corporate sites are still running Windows NT 4.0 Server, which can most kindly be described as a legacy operating system. On the client, Win2K Professional can be found in over 90 percent of the companies surveyed, but NT 4.0 Workstation is found in almost 70 percent, and Windows 98 is still run at almost 65 percent of responding companies. These OSes, the Yankee Group says, put companies at risk because Microsoft will soon discontinue support.
Palladium May Police Your Motherboard. Then Again, It May Not
This week's wonderful speculative piece comes courtesy of ENN (ElectricNews.net), and starts off with the admission that "most commentators have no real knowledge of Microsoft's Palladium" and then proceeds to explain how this technology might just usurp control of the PC from its users. For me, the Chicken Little stuff is always laugh-out-loud amusing, and often disturbing, but this article reaches a new low by simply quoting people dissatisfied with the perceived privacy challenges in products like XP SP1 and Win2K SP3 to justify its attack on a technology that is still three years away. And while there isn't a single fact about Palladium in the entire piece (beyond the basic description of it as "Microsoft's attempt to build a trusted computer") a good anti-Microsoft piece would never let such a limitation stand in the way of a story. Good stuff.
Group: Microsoft Already Violating Proposed Antitrust Settlement
ProComp, an industry group backed by several of Microsoft's competitors, has filed a 12-page petition with New York's attorney general, charging Microsoft with "at least 6" separate violations of the company's proposed antitrust settlement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The group says that Microsoft's release of XP SP1, which features a Set Program Access and Defaults feature aimed at implementing part of the settlement, doesn't in fact make a good faith effort to comply with the letter or spirit of the settlement proposal (Interestingly, I came to the same conclusion in my XP SP1 preview, URL below). "The mechanism purportedly settling the antitrust case is, by definition, not readily accessible \[to consumers\]," ProComp wrote in the letter to New York. The group also complains that Windows Update requires Internet Explorer, that the settlement feature isn't available on the default Start Menu or desktop, that the 133 MB SP1 file takes hours to download on a dial-up connection, and that Microsoft is charging $10 for the CD-based version. "It is beyond ridiculous, pursuant to an antitrust settlement with the United States government," that the files related to the settlement are not made available separately, as a much smaller update, the groups say. It's actually an interesting point, but then Microsoft's response is equally valid. "We had a whole beta process for \[XP SP1\] where we sought and received feedback from industry and government," a Microsoft spokesperson said.. "It's unfortunate, but hardly surprising, that this group, which is backed by our competitors, chose to play politics rather than participate in the process. SP1 is easily available and in wide distribution."
Dude, You're Getting a Raise
Microsoft's top two executives got raises last year, though the salary increases will do little to improve either's lot in life. Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer both take home a base salary of $547,000, followed by a $205,000 bonus. But since both guys are worth billions, the salary amounts to a charitable contribution, the type of money you or I might toss in the penny jar at a local convenience store. And most interesting, neither Ballmer nor Gates are the highest paid executive at the company. Instead, group vice president Jim Allchin, who oversees Windows development, took home almost $900,000 last year in combined salary and bonus. But like the rest of us, I'm sure all three of them are just happy to be employed during these tough financial times.
Palm Readies New Hardware
Though the company has had a relatively quiet year (discounting the hoo-hah over its slightly-less-colorful-than-claimed m130 product), Palm Inc. will unleash a new generation of Palm devices next month, though none of them use the new Palm OS 5 operating system, released in June. The devices include a new low-end $100 model, one based on the ARM architecture shared with the Pocket PC, and another with always-on wireless capabilities. Most of the new products are described as "revolutionary," with new form factors, new features, and new capabilities. We'll see whether Palm still has what it takes: The past few years have been rather unexciting, product-wise, for the company.
Random Thought. If MPEG-4 Is So Good...
... Then why is virtually none of the content on Apple's Web site--including movie trailers and product demos--encoded in that format? Hmm...
Dude, You Still Getting a Dell?
Last Sunday, while the SuperBowl Champion New England Patriots were blowing out the New York Jets 44-7, Gateway debuted a new ad that tackles yet another PC maker rival, this time market leader Dell. In a move reminiscent of its irreverent anti-iMac ads, the new Gateway ad simply displays a PC World "Best Value" chart, which shows, of course, a Gateway model in the number one position. Playing in the background is the unofficial theme song of the NFL, and there's no voice-over at all. Say what you will about Gateway, but their ads rock.
Apple's Market Share in the Basement: What's Next?
Three recent surveys put Apple Computer's worldwide market share at well under 3 percent, leading analysts to once again ponder the fate of the Cupertino company. How bad is it? Giga Information Group says that Apple has hit a new low of just 2.6 percent market share, but RedSheriff says the figure is 2.2 percent, while OneStat.com says 1.43 percent. These figures have all come in the days since Apple launched its "Switcher" ad campaign, in which real users expound on the alleged simplicity and superiority of the Mac over Windows. But Apple has yet to deliver any figures on Windows switchers, beyond the number of users who visited the Web site, suggesting that the campaign hasn't done much to drive people to the Mac. "Think Different" might have been grammatically challenged, but at least it was cool.
Jaguar Already Upgraded
Imagine for a moment that Microsoft released Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) just weeks after it shipped WinXP, and the mocking that release would have unleashed. But that's the situation Mac OS X fans faced this week when Apple upgraded OS X 10.2 "Jaguar" to 10.2.1 with a massive set of changes aimed largely at fixing bugs. What's funny about this, of course, is just the reaction Mac advocates of, who naturally see the update as a good thing, as if the Gods of Olympus had once again shined a light in their direction. When bug fixes are issued for Windows, however, these same people see it as a sign of Windows' insecurity and instability. In general, this is just another example of people being limited by their own experiences: Software isn't perfect, and probably never will be. And yes, Virginia, that includes software made by Apple Computer.
.Mac Membership Hits 100,000. No, That's Not Good
I rail a lot against the lack of progress that Microsoft is making with .NET, but Apple's recent trumpeting of 100,000 customers to its .Mac service isn't good news either. Instead, consider the fact that 2.5 million people signed on to .Mac when it was free (and called iTools), and that there are supposedly 2.5 million people using Mac OS X. Or consider that Apple itself said that the average retention rate for customers moving from free services to paid services is 10 percent, a figure that is more than double the retention rate Apple has seen. Or my final point: Consider that .Mac is half price the first year. What's going to happen when the company starts charging $100 a year next fall? Yes, Web services are the wave of the future. Still.
Sun Increases StarOffice Giveaways
In a bid to increase acceptance of its StarOffice 6.0 office productivity suite, Sun Microsystems announced this week that it will donate an estimated $650 million worth of software to cash-strapped educational institutions in Europe and South Africa, freeing them from worries about paying for the high-price Microsoft Office. Sun hopes the giveaway will bring StarOffice to over 26 million students in those regions this year, along with the millions who saw a similar gift in the Far East. And a US push isn't far behind: The company says that plans for educational donations in America are underway as well. The timing couldn't be better. After outraged educators in Oregon's schools complained about Microsoft software audits earlier this year, many institutions began looking around for alternatives. And Sun is prepping an offer few educators will be able to refuse.
And You Thought I Watched Microsoft Like a Hawk
I'm surprised I haven't mentioned this site yet, but there's a new Microsoft watchdog on the beat, and it's doing an amazing job. Called Watching Microsoft Like A Hawk (which, literally, uses the URL www.watchingmicrosoftlikeahawk.com), this site collects links to dozens of important Microsoft stories every single day, including many from WinInfo Daily Update. The site has turned into an invaluable resource, and one I think many readers will enjoy. Check it out.
Book of the Week
I've been reading the amazing "HIGH SCORE! An Illustrated History of Electronic Games" lately, and if you grew up on video games in the late 1970's and early 1980's like I did, then you're going to want to run out and grab a copy. Printed in gorgeous full color, with numerous photos and screenshots, the book describes the development of arcade and home video game systems from the early days up to the Xbox. And though it ignores or glosses over some of my all-time favorites (what, no multi-page write-up on Psygnosis' amazing "Shadow of the Beast" series?), the behind-the-scenes information they've provided is invaluable. Good stuff, highly recommended.